Thursday, April 10, 2014

Fire Safety

"I believe everyone should shave their bodies so they're less flammable.  Don't you think that's a good idea?". --Micah

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Review: Victus Study Skills System

I'm pretty positive that I'm not the only homeschooling mom who struggles with teaching her students study skills. When the boys were younger, it wasn't a big deal.  But now that my older boys are, well...older, it's been something that's more on my mind.  Because of this, I was excited to receive the Student Workbook ($20) and Teacher Edition ($40) from  Victus Study Skills System.  This study skills system can be used with all ages, but is best suited for grades 5 through 12.

The Teacher Edition begins with the philosophy of the Victus Study Skills System.  I found this section very important to read in order to fully understand the system.  This introduction is followed by an explanation of how to best use the program.  This first section gives several helpful tips and techniques to help you become a more effective teacher of the program, as well as a sample plan on how to teach the lessons.

The second section in the Teacher Edition contains the lessons.  These lessons are not scripted, but instead they give you the big ideas behind the lessons and some teaching suggestions for introducing the lesson, as well as instructions for teaching the lesson.  These instructions are written to you, the teacher, and you will want to read them before hand because you will need to put them into your own words to teach the lesson.  A very helpful feature of the Teacher Edition is that it includes reduced versions of the pages in the Student Workbook, so you will know what your child is looking at and working on for the lesson. 

The third section contains reinforcement exercises for the course.  Most of these pages are views of what is included in the Student Workbook.

The Student Workbook begins by giving an introduction of the Victus Study Skills System to the student.  It's always good and helpful to know why we are doing things, and I know my homeschoolers haven't always seen the need for study skills.
There are 10 lessons in the program. Each lesson takes about 1/2 hour to complete, though you can break them up as needed.  Younger students will take longer to complete the lessons than high school students. 
There are three "Foundational Cornerstones" to the program:
  1. Where am I now?
  2. Where do I want to be?
  3. How do I get there?
Lessons 1 and 2 make up the "Where am I now?" cornerstone.  In order to get where you want to go, you need to really know where you are.  Lesson 3 makes up the "Where do I want to be?" cornerstone.  Here your student will set goals and create a mission statement.  This allows them to truly define where they want to end up.  Lessons 4 through 10 make up the "How do I get there?" cornerstone.  This cornerstone contains the nitty-gritty of how to actually study.  Time management, note taking, and test taking are just 3 of the six skills covered.  If you'd like to view the table of contents and a sample page, you can do so on the Victus Study Skills System product page.

When I first received the program, I was a bit overwhelmed.  I understood the beginning lessons; it's important to know where your student is and what their learning style is.  But once the lessons shifted over to goal setting and creating a mission statement, I froze.  I've never been good with this process.  I always have a goal in mind, but ask me to write it down and I panic.  Mention "mission statement" and my mind quickly empties.  Thankfully, the lessons walk you through this process and make it fairly painless (or at least make it possible, even for those like me whose minds go blank when this information is requested).  The actual study skills lessons were a bit easier for me to grasp.  There are great tips that I never would've thought of directly teaching, like explaining how to use shorthand when taking notes.  I also appreciated the fact that the pages are clean and uncluttered, and I liked that there are inspirational quotes sprinkled throughout the book.

Since I don't have a lot of large blocks of teaching time anymore, I appreciated that the lessons could easily be broken up or extended to fit the amount of time I had available.  Thankfully, my son (11) didn't pick up on any of my nervousness about the middle part of the program, and he did well with the lessons.  I know I'll need to keep working with him and remind him to use what he's learned.  I think the skills and information are so helpful and worthwhile that I'm going to go through the program with my 14 & 13 year old sons this summer.

If your students, like mine, need instruction on how to study, make sure you check out Victus Study Skills System.  The importance of learning how to study is summed up in the quote on the front of both the Teacher Edition and Student Workbook:
"For the sole true end of education is simply this:  to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spend in vain."      --Dorothy Sayers

Check out Victus Study Skills System on social media:
Twitter: @VictusStudy

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Saturday, April 05, 2014

Review: The Jesus Bible

Nicholas was in need of a new Bible.  His Bible was the International Children's Version, and he was the 5th boy to use it, and it was falling apart.  He was also asking for a different translation--the International Children's Version is wonderful for younger children, but he wanted a translation like his brothers.

Therefore, when I had the opportunity to review The Jesus Bible (NIV), we were both thrilled.  This Bible is intended for ages 9-12.  The subtitle is "Discover Jesus in Every Book of the Bible".  Even the events of the Old Testament point to Jesus, and there are 365 devotions that point to this fact, as well as where Jesus is seen in the New Testament.  In addition, each book of the Bible has an introduction, and part of these introductions include "Where is Jesus in this book?".  The introductions also have other helpful information, such as who the key people are, when it took place, etc.  There is a timeline of Jesus's life, as well as a simplified family tree.

The font of this Bible is an easy on the eyes brown color, and the accent color is red.  Words of Christ are in red.  There are additional helps:  maps, concordance, and lists of the devotions.  It's a nice, sturdy hardcover, and has held up to Nicholas's 8 year old boy ways.  Most importantly, he loves this Bible.  He's talked to me about some of the devotions, and has mentioned that he is learning a lot.  I like that it's pointing him to Jesus.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Review: Spelling You See

Demme Learning, of Math-U-See fame, has a new member in their family:  Spelling You See.  We were given the opportunity to review Spelling You See: American Spirit (Level E).  
Spelling You See Review

There are currently 5 levels available in the Spelling You See program:
  • Listen and Write (Level A)
  • Jack and Jill (Level B)
  • Wild Tales (Level C)
  • Americana (Level D)
  • American Spirit (Level E)
There are two more levels on the horizon:
  • Ancient Achievements (Level F)
  • Modern Milestones (Level G)
Spelling You See Review
There are five developmental stages of spelling, according to Dr. Karen Holinga, who is the creator of Spelling You See.  These stages are (you can read more about each stage on the Spelling You See website):
  1. Preliterate
  2. Phonetic
  3. Skill Development
  4. Word Extension
  5. Derivational Constancy
The idea behind Spelling You See is that a student must master one stage before moving on to the next.  Because of this, there are no grade levels on the Spelling You See books.  You can read more about each level and download sample lessons to help determine placement by visiting the Spelling You See website.

Spelling You See Review

There are 36 lessons in each level of Spelling You See, and each lesson is broken down into 5 parts.  While it is important that you and your child are consistent with spelling lessons, I found it a bit of a relief that the Instructor's Handbook states that it is okay to move along to the next lesson without completing the previous lesson.  I don't know about you, but sometimes I get bogged down in finishing every last bit, even if life has interrupted and thrown us a bit off schedule, so it is reassuring to know that the ideas and concepts and words and patterns being taught will come up again in future lessons. 
American Spirit (Level E) is designed for children who are in at least fourth grade, who read well, and who are moving along with spelling.  A student new to Spelling You See should start here, in this level.  The package comes with 2 Student Workbooks and a pack of erasable colored pencils ($30) and there is also an Instructor's Handbook ($14).

How exactly, then, does Spelling You See work?

This program has your student studying the patterns of spelling through the use of chunking, copywork, and dictation.  Chunking is simply using a simple color coding system to mark various patterns in words:  vowel chunks (such as "ou"), consonant chunks (such as "wh"), bossy r chunks  (such as "ir"), tricky y guy (such as "baby"), endings (such as "ing"), and silent letters (such as the "b" in thumb). 

In American Spirit, each lesson is centered around a single passage about people or events in American history.  Because the same passage is used for a week, the student really gets a chance to internalize the words in the passage.  Before any pencil work is completed for the day, you are instructed to read the passage to your student, and then read the passage slowly together, paying close attention to the words.  Finally, you use the color coded chunking method to chunk the passage.

Copywork is used on days 1-3 of each lesson.  The student is asked to copy portions of the same passage over each of these three days.  However, if you have a student who is a slow writer or struggles with penmanship, you might find it comforting to know that you are instructed to have your child stop copying after 10 minutes, even if they're not finished.  After the child finishes the copywork, they then mark their copywork passage with the color coded chunking described above.

Dictation is completed on days 4-5 of each lesson.  The two days of dictation are slightly different from each other, but like the copywork days, you are instructed to stop after 10 minutes.  On day 4, the "First Dictation", you read the passage slowly and watch your student write each word.  You help them with capitalization and punctuation, and you also help them spell any words that they misspell.  You correct these immediately, because you don't want incorrect spellings to stick in their heads.  You want to discuss the different chunks that come up in the dictation as you work through the passage.  On day 5, the "Second Dictation",  the goal is for the student to write the passage as you dictate it, but with minimal help. 
Spelling You See Review
I used this program with Micah, my 4th grader.  I found the instructions in the Instructor's Handbook to be very helpful and necessary; it really explained the program methods (in addition to including an answer key).  Without it, I wouldn't have known exactly what to do.  We followed the methods outlined above, so lessons took about 20-30 minutes, depending on how long we took to read the passage and chunk.  For us, this was the only downfall of the program.  With five children, it is difficult to regularly carve out that much time for spelling.
We both really liked the color/visual aspect of chunking in this program.  I liked that it incorporated little lessons in American history into our spelling lesson, and I also love that it makes copywork and dictation fairly painless for me, the teacher.  Micah is a decent speller, but he still doesn't enjoy the physical act of writing.  Knowing that he could stop copywork and dictation after 10 minutes was an encouragement to him. 

If you're looking for a sequential, colorful, and fun spelling program for your child, you should check out Spelling You See from Demme Learning.
Check out Spelling You See on Facebook and Twitter!
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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Coolest Cousin Ever

How do you earn the title of "Coolest Cousin Ever"? Leave your wedding reception in a helicopter.  In the words of Luke, after a day of wedding ceremony, wearing-of-tie, and tea party reception:
"This made it all so totally worth it."

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Future Politician

Micah:  "Did Nick ask you any questions?"
Me:  "No.  What was he going to ask me?"
Micah:  "I don't know.  Just a question."
Me:  (raised eyebrow)
Micah:  "Why are you looking at me weird?"
Me:  "I think you're up to no good."
Micah:  "Well, that depends on your definition of 'no good'".


Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Ezekiel started team gymnastics in January.  All the boys have done rec classes in trampoline and tumbling for a few years, but working on form and all the little details is new.

His gym held a small meet, and Zeke won gold on trampoline!  It's amazing to see how far he's come.  When he first started classes, he couldn't really even do a cartwheel.  Now he flips and flies and it brings him such joy.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Review: Mastering 5th Grade Math-Volume 1-Essentials of Fractions is a company that offers a variety of math and science teaching DVDs.  In 2012, I had the opportunity to review their Amazing Science Volume 1 DVD, and I loved it so much I was thrilled when I was given the opportunity to review one of their math DVDs:  Mastering 5th Grade Math-Volume 1-Essentials of Fractions.  The target grade levels for this DVD are grades 4-6, and it's priced at $15.99.

Like many other homeschooling moms, I feel like I can never get enough math help.  I also like it when my boys are able to learn from other teachers.  Teachers on DVDs don't lose their patience or grow tired of explaining a concept again.  Enter Jason Gibson, a man passionate about teaching science and math. He's an actual Rocket Scientist who has degrees in Engineering and Physics.  He's been creating award winning videos since 2004, with the goal of explaining how science and math relate to one another.

There are 16 lessons on the Mastering 5th Grade Math-Volume 1-Essentials of Fractions DVD:
  1. Review of Fraction Concepts
  2. Writing Fractions as Words
  3. Finding Factors of a Number
  4. Finding the Greatest Common Factor
  5. Finding the GCF of 3 Numbers
  6. Prime Factorization
  7. Equivalent Fractions
  8. Renaming Fractions
  9. Simplifying Fractions Part 1
  10. Simplifying Fractions Part 2
  11. Review of Improper Fractions
  12. Review of Mixed Fractions
  13. Converting Mixed Fractions to Improper Fractions
  14. Converting Improper Fractions to Mixed Fractions
  15. Thinking about Fractions as Division
  16. Writing a Whole Number as a Fraction
Lessons seem to average about 15 minutes. In addition to each teaching video, there are printable worksheets included on a separate DVD (also included on this DVD are the lessons in mp4 format). There are about 2-3 worksheets per lesson, and there is also a printable answer key.  Each worksheet has 10 problems.  I appreciated the clean, uncluttered appearance of the worksheets, and the fact they are clearly labelled:

I used this with Jacob, my 6th grader.  He watched the DVD lessons on a laptop, and then completed the associated worksheets.  Fractions are not a new concept for him--just something he needed some extra practice/reinforcement with.  He completed about a lesson a day.  If fractions were a new concept, or if he were really struggling, I would have spread the worksheets out over a few days.  

I asked Jacob what he thought about the DVD, and he really enjoyed it.  He never complained about it, even though math tends to be his least loved subject.  He told me that he teacher was engaging and he enjoyed watching the lessons, and he thinks that Mr. Gibson explains fractions well.  Jacob feels like he understands some things about fractions better than before he completed the DVD lessons.  From grading Jacob's completed worksheets, he seems to understand the content well.

Mastering 5th Grade Math-Volume 1-Essentials of Fractions is the first of four volumes in this series.  The remaining 3 DVDs focus on adding and subtracting fractions, multiplying and dividing fractions, order of operations, decimals, long division, and more.  If you're looking for something to supplement your current math program, or if you have a student struggling with fractions, you should check out this DVD from

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Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Check This Out!

Guess what?  Craig has started blogging at  Check it out, and while you're there, you should follow him.
My name’s Craig and I live on the edge of mountains.  I love beautiful things and like to think about the bottom line meanings of life.  I have found integration of life’s meanings in the person of Jesus Christ.  And that’s the beginning of the story.